Your Advocacy Matters, Especially Now

The school year is winding down, and many PTAs and members are thinking about end-of-the-year parties and summer activities. But the end of May also marks the end of the Illinois legislative session, and many of the issues that the General Assembly still faces will have a significant effect on your child and their school. Among those issues are:

  • The state budget for the next fiscal year
  • Additional education funding for the new Evidence-Based Funding model
  • Gun violence prevention and school safety
  • Children’s mental health
  • Juvenile Justice issues

Illinois PTA will be advocating on these and other issues as the legislative session wraps up. We will be filing witness slips on various bills, testifying before committees, and contacting legislators and the governor. But the true power of PTA comes through when our PTA members join us in speaking up for all the children of Illinois.

You Already Are an Advocate

If you’ve spoken to your child’s teacher about an issue in the classroom or with your child’s learning, you are already an advocate. If you have raised a question at a PTA meeting about why your child’s school has a certain policy, you are already an advocate. If you have every spoken at a school board meeting or placed a school referendum sign in your front yard, you are already an advocate.

Advocacy is simply speaking up for another, and PTA advocacy focuses on those who have little to no voice in the halls of power—our children. Many school boards and many legislators have few, if any, individuals speaking up on a particular issue. When you can share your viewpoint and tell how a policy or a bill will have a specific effect on your child, your family, or your community, you have tremendous influence on those who make the policies or pass the bills. Don’t take our word for it, look at what PTA advocates did to get drinking water in elementary schools tested for lead.

How to Advocate with the Legislature

Illinois PTA makes it easy to advocate with legislators. Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network by going to the Illinois PTA Advocacy page and entering your e-mail and ZIP code in the Quick Sign Up box on the right.

As a member of the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network, you will get occasional calls to action in your inbox. Simply click on the button in the e-mail, which will take you to a prewritten letter to your legislators. Take a moment to add any personal information, including how the bill will affect your child or school, up at the top of the letter, include your contact information, and hit send. That’s all there is to it.

We know that these e-mails do make a difference. Legislators also take notice when Illinois PTA leaders start their testimony on a bill with, “On behalf of the 80,000 members of the Illinois PTA…” Your advocacy, and your PTA membership, makes a difference for your child and for every child in Illinois.

 

Does Advocacy Matter?

PTA was founded 120 years ago to focus on advocacy on behalf of children, and many things we take for granted today—child labor laws, the juvenile justice system, childhood immunizations, the school lunch program—happened because of PTA advocacy. But when we look back at those examples today, our thoughts may lean towards those being obvious choices—of course children shouldn’t work in dangerous factories and mines, be locked up with adult prisoners, die from preventable diseases, or go hungry at school. As individuals, we may feel that our voice is too small, that there are too many lobbyists with too much money drowning out what we’re saying. So, does advocacy matter?

At Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in 2016, a dozen PTA advocates visited legislators and their staff to push for passage of SB550, a school drinking water lead testing bill that was stuck in committee and going nowhere. Hundreds of other PTA advocates participated in our online Call to Action to contact their legislators as well. The result was a “dead” bill suddenly moving to passage and signed into law.

The law is a great success for PTA advocacy, and we should all be proud of our efforts, but passing a law often seems abstract when trying to get others to join us in advocacy. That is why it is important to remember that passing laws or developing regulations are like only the building of a rocket. It is the implementation that is what launches that rocket.

So what has been the real effect of passing SB550? Schools have been testing their drinking water, and how that testing will benefit young children in Illinois is becoming increasingly clear. School districts across the state are having to deal with unsafe drinking water that has been harming children for decades. Note this small sample of news articles, citing schools with high lead levels:

And there are many more school districts like those listed. It should also be noted that Chicago Public Schools began testing for lead before the law was passed.

So the efforts of about 1% of Illinois PTA members advocating for children means that high lead contamination of drinking water in day cares and elementary schools will soon be a thing of the past. That will make a significant difference in the lives of each of those children, and that is why advocacy matters. Imagine what we could accomplish if every PTA member was actively advocating for children.

Get Involved Now!

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield 2017 was last week. If you weren’t able to join us, contact your legislators now (it literally takes two minutes), and don’t forget to sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to ensure you don’t miss additional opportunities to speak up for Illinois children.

 

 

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day 2017

Today is Illinois PTA Advocacy Day. Even if you can’t join us in Springfield, you can still participate. If you have a few minutes sometime in the next few days, send an e-mail to your legislators. The text is prewritten for you, though you can edit it or add more if you would like to. Then, add your contact information and hit send.

If you have a bit more time, schedule a meeting with your legislators at their district offices. They will be in Springfield this week for the veto session, but will be back in their districts next week. If you’re not sure how to set up a meeting or how to talk to a legislator, be sure to check out our webinar from last year on How to Meet with Legislators.

Illinois PTA is advocating on three key issues this year for Advocacy Day:

  • Education Funding: The new funding formula starts Illinois on a path towards adequate and equitable funding, but without additional funding added to the formula in future years, we will continue to have the most inequitable school funding in the country.
  • Environmental Concerns: Based on our 2017 resolutions on climate change and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), we are asking legislators to support science-based regulations on carbon emissions and fracking operations to protect children’s health and the environment.
  • Justice-Involved Young Adults: Based on our report to the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, we are asking lawmakers to consider legislation treating those ages 18 to 24 involved in the justice system differently from those 25 and older, as scientific research indicates that young adults in that age range behave much more like teenagers than adults due to brain development.

If you are unsure what to say about these topics to your legislator, check out our 2017 Hot Topics webinar or contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty, who can provide you with talking points and handouts to share.

Finally, don’t miss out on the opportunity to make your voice heard on important advocacy issues in the future. Find out about Illinois PTA Calls to Action by signing up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network.

 

Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Special Education

The National PTA Legislative Checklist calls for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that further supports and improves the lives of more than 6.5 million eligible children, from infants through youth. Reauthorization must:

  • Include a statutory definition of family engagement in education based on National Standards for Family-School Partnerships within section 602 of IDEA.
  • Provide greater protections for the rights of children with special needs, as well as their families, to ensure access to resources and supports for high-quality education.
  • Require transition planning for qualifying students to begin no later than age 14, incentivizing school districts to employ appropriate staff to deliver services.
  • Support the inclusion of behavioral intervention plans in a student’s IEP and 504b plan.

One of the fundamentals of IDEA is the inclusion of Procedural Safeguards designed to enumerate the rights of both the student and family, and the school district when determining appropriate educational programs for students with special needs. These safeguards include, but are not limited to:

  • The parents’ right to receive a complete explanation of all the procedural safeguards, the method of submitting any complaints, and the mechanism for resolving disputes,
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to review in its entirety a student’s educational record
  • The right to participate in meetings to identify, evaluate, or place a student in a particular educational program, including the provisions of a free appropriate education for the student (FAPE)
  • The right to obtain an independent educational evaluation
  • The right to prior written notice on matters relating to the student
  • The right to give or deny consent before the school make take certain action with regard to the student
  • The right to disagree with decisions made by the school system

The Illinois PTA recognizes that the educational environment for students with special needs, as defined within the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), must consider the needs of the student as part of the planning process. One critical element of assessing student needs continues to be funding. Item 3c of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform calls for full funding of all mandated educational and special programs so that all students will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This position is expanded in Item 3g of the platform which calls for adequate appropriations for the education of special needs students.

In addition, we support the development of Social and Emotional Learning Standards (SEL) which provide content, skills, evaluation, and assessment at age appropriate levels as part of the curricula crafted by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).